It's been so cold that the ponds have frozen a couple of days and I've already had to chop holes in the ice for the cows (I don't think I've ever had to do that this early in the year before). This morning it started snowing and they're forecasting a low of around 16 degrees tomorrow, which is awfully cold for mid-November in Oklahoma.
|When it's cold, the wind's blowing, and it's snowing, I'm driving to check the cattle instead of walking|
About four or five years ago, when my calving season started in mid-February, a big storm hit right as the cows were starting to calve. The temperature dropped to well below zero (24 degrees below zero), over a foot of snow fell, and the road to the farm drifted closed for a few days until the county brought in a bulldozer to move the snow. I was lucky that time and didn't lose any calves, although I ended up with a couple that had frostbitten ears and tails. If the storm had hit a week later when more cows were calving, I really would have been in trouble.
After that storm, I moved the calving season to March trying to avoid the worst of winter weather and started thinking about building some sort of windbreak in that pasture. I also built a loafing shed so I'd have somewhere to put any newborn calves if a storm hit during calving season.
I soon found out that calving in March didn't mean that I'd avoid most of the ice and snow winter storms. I also found out that a loafing shed doesn't really help as much as I thought it would with newborn calves, because unless I babysit each and every cow that might be ready to calve, it's impossible to move a calf to the loafing shed quick enough to make a difference in a storm that's bad enough that a calf might need to be in that loafing shed. A loafing shed has a use on the farm, but it doesn't really help in blizzard unless I could somehow put all the cows into it before the storm hit.
Most local pastures have enough trees and protected areas that windbreaks would be an unneeded luxury, but the pasture where I like to winter my cows doesn't have enough trees in the right places to provide enough shelter. Planting more trees is probably the best long-term solution, but for the short-term, building some sort of windbreak might be useful.
Even though I've thought about building a windbreak for a couple of years, I've never got around to actually building anything (mainly because I can't decide exactly what I want to build or if a windbreak would even work). In the process of trying to decide what to build, as a test, I hung a tarp on one side of the working pens to make a 6'x24' windbreak last winter right before one snow storm which did block the wind, but I didn't see any cattle around it at all. I'm not sure if it just wasn't tall enough, it wasn't wide enough, it wasn't in the best location, or it was something else?
Another time right before a snowstorm, I stacked about ten bales of hay in a line next to an already somewhat sheltered area. This idea did work to block the wind, some of the cattle gathered around it, and some calves even bedded down out of the wind next to the bales like they were supposed to. The only problem was that the cows ate just enough of the bales that when I tried to move them after the storm, I had a big mess of falling apart hay bales so I had to just leave them out for the cows to clean up. After they'd eaten part of the hay and wasted a heck of a lot of it, I then found out that it was almost impossible to get all that baling twine cleaned up. Except for when I'd need an emergency shelter, I don't think building a windbreak out of stacked hay or straw would really work for me.
After all that , I've been thinking about building a honest-to-goodness windbreak like they use up in places like Canada. I've seen a few interesting designs online for portable windbreaks that look like they might work that are about 10-12 feet tall and about 20-24 feet long built out of pipe and covered with either 2x6 lumber or sheet-metal. Last year, I got as far as drawing up some rough plans and making out a materials list (which I can't find now) and estimated that it would cost around $400-500 for materials (for all new steel and lumber).
For anyone interested, some of my ideas came for these two links: a forum post on Rancher.net and an agriculture publication from Saskatchewan about Portable Windbreak Fences.
I hoping that thinking out loud about windbreaks on this blog combined with this early snowstorm might help push me enough to start building a windbreak this winter in time for calving season instead of next summer when it's too late. Wish me luck, and if I build one I'll share the building process in the future.
If anyone had any ideas or suggestions to add, feel free to share them.